Post-spring strengths and weaknesses: Georgia
Kirby Smart finds himself in a strange situation among first-year head coaches.
His expectations are sky high, which is typically unfair for a guy who hasn’t had a full recruiting cycle as head coach. Yet, Georgia isn’t your typical just-fired-your-coach team. The Bulldogs won 10 games last year, and their three losses came to the best Tennessee team since Phil Fulmer, the stereotypical defeat in Jacksonville and the national champions.
This team is on the precipice of title contention, if given the magic touch. Smart is expected to be that touch.
Despite that title standard, there’s certainly areas at Georgia that Smart hopes to improve upon. There also are aspects in place that he’s surely grateful to have immediately.
Here are Georgia’s strengths and weaknesses following the spring football season.
- The running game: This was Georgia’s anchor throughout the Mark Richt era, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon in the Smart era. Georgia just picked up another big-name running back recruit last week in late qualifier Brian Herrien. Herrien will file in behind a loaded running back group headlined by recovering Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Tae Crowder has garnered a lot of attention through the spring, and Shaquery Wilson played well out in the G-Day game. Then there’s the often forgotten Brendan Douglas, who has averaged almost 4 yards per rare carry for three seasons. Newcomer Elijah Holyfield, that Holyfield, has the size and speed to contribute immediately, if there’s enough snaps to go around. Add in the hiring of Sam Pittman as offensive line coach, and it should make for lots and lots of yards for Georgia running backs this season.
- The energy around the program: When is the last time Georgia felt this energized? Judging by G-Day attendance, never. I legitimately believed a full-house for the spring game to be impossible. There’s no need to watch practice reps when you have Broad and Clayton Streets. Smart changed that in year one. It has carried over to recruiting. The Bulldogs are locking down the state of Georgia. Multiple players are flipping commitments from Alabama to Georgia. It’s mayhem, and it’s exactly what Smart wants. It makes recruiting easier, and it makes the fan base that much more passionate as Georgia prepares for a new season in a new era.
- The linebackers: This has been the other Georgia staple through the good and the bad. Leonard Floyd, Jake Ganus and Jordan Jenkins are gone, but there is plenty of linebacker love in Athens. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy will rise into the leadership role on that front, which should be a good thing for the Bulldogs’ defense. Carter and Bellamy have shown All-American flashes, and they’ve also shared some boneheaded moments. But they will complement well with a younger group with players like Natrez Patrick, Roquan Smith and Reggie Carter. Georgia has no reason to worry about losing some good ones to the NFL because there’s another set of professionals behind them.
- The quarterback uncertainty: This is the second offseason in a row that no one has a clue about who will start. There’s the pick the masses want, and there’s the pick the masses are going to get, and they really have no idea whether that’s the same person. Will it be Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey or Jacob Eason? In some ways, you can’t go wrong with any, but this two-year stretch of unknown is so different from what the Bulldogs are accustomed to, coming of four-year record-setter Aaron Murray. Smart has indicated the quarterback decision won’t be finalized before fall camp, so the waiting game could play mind games with Georgia.
- Wide receivers: Smart made it pretty clear from the get-go that he wants more depth at the position. Georgia lost Malcolm Mitchell, an underestimated loss. The shallow receiving corps has probably been a little overplayed this offseason with guys like Terry Godwin, Jayson Stanley, Michael Chigbu and Riley Ridley showing several times in the spring and/or last season that they have big-play ability. Reggie Davis and Isaiah McKenzie appeared to be relegated to third-string players in the spring game, and there’s incoming people from the 2016 class that could contribute early. Still, Georgia seems to have a pass-catching shortage.
- Unfamiliarity: Obviously familiarity isn’t necessary to win, evidenced by seasons under Gus Malzahn and Jim McElwain recently. But it has to help, and there won’t be much familiarity this season for a program that decided it had too much of it over the past 15 seasons. Language will change, the playbook will change, practices will change and coaching styles will change. Until the Bulldogs get comfortable with it all, it will be hard to compete against talented SEC foes.